The National Mall: From Crisis to Vision

ASLA’s Blue Ribbon Panel of design professionals released the results of its assessment of the National Park Service’s Plan for the National Mall. The panel said the current state of the National Mall is an “international embarrassment,” and calls for a more defined vision by the National Park Service.

The panel includes: Robin Abrams, ASLA, AIA, Professor, North Carolina State University; Joseph Brown, FASLA, Chief executive of AECOM’s Global Planning, Design and Development group and CEO of EDAW; Fernando Costa, FAICP, Assistant City Manager, City of Fort Worth; ASLA President, Angela Dye, FASLA; Gary Hilderbrand, FASLA, Principal of Reed Hilderbrand Associates Inc; Harry Hunderman, FAIA, Senior principal, Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates Inc.

Among the panel’s conclusions:

  • The National Park Service leads a heroic effort in stewarding the country’s most important landscape with very limited resources, and the panel supports most of the recommendations in its current plan.
  • The National Mall should stand solidly among the world’s foremost public spaces. Instead, it now faces a crisis of maintenance. The landscape falls horrifically short of its promise and importance, and critical needs must be addressed immediately.
  • The National Mall’s dire needs, along with arbitrarily defined areas of responsibility, have compromised the National Park Service’s broader vision that was among its initial goals.  

The panel calls for the National Park Service to compile a complete design plan that addresses this preeminent public space consistently and comprehensively to better weave it into the larger urban fabric. This plan will also serve to guide all future design and maintenance. Panel members applaud the close collaboration with the National Capital Planning Commission and urge that all planning efforts addressing the National Mall and its environs continue to be integrated into one defined, comprehensive vision. Among some specific recommendations:

  • The panel strongly supports the standing ban on any new memorials or museums not already in planning stages. This is critical to preserving the integrity of the Mall.
  • The panel endorses the Park Service’s call for a redesign of Union Square but feels such an initiative needs to reach beyond the NPS jurisdiction to Constitution and Independence Avenues and Capitol Hill to be truly successful. The panel proposes an international design competition or forum of the best and brightest international design professionals to help shape Union Square’s future.
  • The panel feels visitor services can be accommodated adjacent to the National Mall as well as within, again calling for a broader vision, and they endorse the Park Service’s proposed redevelopment of the Sylvan Theater for centralized visitor services. They also call for an end to additional centers of interpretation for monuments and memorials.
  • They propose centralizing these needs in a Mall orientation center. Renovation and remediation of the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building, now empty yet very near a key Metro stop, could serve this purpose.

The panel insists, in agreement with the NPS, that any future design and remediation integrate sustainable design practices to position the Mall as a model for urban ecology. To achieve this, the panel urges the Park Service to:

  • Base all future actions on sound scientific research and actively engage the science community to fill in gaps and ensure the best practices in stormwater management, soil restoration, and the planting and care of trees.
  • Integrate all water features and paving into the urban ecology.
  • Use Sustainable Sites Initiative and the U.S. Green Building Council criteria as guidelines.

Go to ASLA’s National Mall web site to read the full report and watch video interviews with panelists

Ocean Zoning

Duke University researchers argue in the journal, Science, that U.S. ocean governance doesn’t provide legal support for ecosystem management. To do so, Congress would need to employ the ‘public trust doctrine,’ which requires government to manage natural resources in the best interest of citizens. According to Greenwire, some lawmakers have proposed offshore zoning, or ‘marine spatial planning.’ Advocacy groups are also trying to insert marine zoning terms that would require an ecosystem-based management approach into legislation this year.

The authors contend that public-trust doctrine can be used for settling legal disputes regarding the sea. With increasing use of off-shore wave and wind energy farms, which may have effects on marine habitat, as well as fishery management, legal issues are growing more complex. In the proposed “marine special management plan,” ecosystem management would be the guiding principle.

Larry Crowder, a marine biology professor at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment said “people still think of the oceans as a frontier,” and re-iterated the need for smart planning to balance future uses: “We’ve done this on land with comprehensive plans.”

Read the article

Go to Science to read “Legal Bedrock for Rebuilding America’s Ocean Ecosystems”

Image credit: Treehugger

China’s New ‘Horizontal Skyscraper’ Frees up Parkspace

China Vanke, one of the largest real estate developers on the mainland, is building a new ‘horizontal skyscraper’ that would be the height of the Empire State Building, if it was standing. Lying horizontally, the building is just 35 meters tall, and designed to take up little space on the ground. According to Shanghai Daily, the “building itself will be raised on eight columns so that its ground floor is at the same height as the third floor of most other buildings. This “floating” design is poetically described by its designers as if the building were “once floating on a higher sea that has now subsided; leaving the structure propped up high on glass and white, coral-like legs.”

The columns are also designed to free up space for parks underneath and around the building. “The elevated structure frees up ground space which is made into a public park, with the building itself providing shaded areas. Rather than the conventional walled-off nature of corporate compounds, as much land as possible will thus be given back to the public. Sea and land breezes can blow freely through the underside of the buildings and into a garden of tropical plants, pools and walkways with cafes and restaurants.” Shanghai Daily says the park design will be modern, yet natural, channeling Brazilian landscape architect, Roberto Burle Marx.

The building’s architect, Steven Holl, is aiming for LEED Platinum. “Maximization of green space outside, and natural light inside the building will contribute to this lofty goal. As well the large rooftop space resulting from the horizontal design allows for significant solar panel installations which are projected to provide up to 12 percent of the building’s energy needs. The large park space will be fed by rainwater capture systems. Shenzhen’s wet, tropical climate provides enough rain to keep the plants green, and rainwater gutters on the roof collect water for use in irrigation and fountains.”

The building is expected to be completed by 2010. Shanghai Daily thinks it’s significant that a leading real estate developer in China is creating this building, a green model for China’s building market.

Read the article

Vancouver Convention Center’s Six-acre Green Roof

The newly-completed Vancouver convention center features a six-acre green roof, the largest in Canada, and the largest non-industrial green roof in North America. Built by LMN Architects, the building has some unique features, including:

  • A green roof with 400,000 native plants and grasses, as well as hives for 60,000 bees
  • Designed habitats for marine life in the building’s foundation
  • On-site black water treatment and desalinization systems that are projected to cut potable water use 60 to 70 percent
  • Seawater pump system for heating and cooling
  • Radiant floor cooling

According to LMN Architects, its landscape consultant, PWL Partnership, joined forces with Paul Kephart, an environmental biologist specializing in living roofs, to design the green roof. LMN Architects write: “The final result will be a landscape that requires a minimal amount of irrigation water. The additional water that is used for irrigation will come from treated building black water, essentially drawing no water from potable sources. The roof landscape will have the ability to retain storm water releasing excess amounts slowly, clean particulate matter from this water, clean pollutants from the air, and provide habitat for insects and birds in the urban environment. The usually benign roof landscape will be transformed into a rich and diverse urban sanctuary.”

The convention center has also developed a system for re-using water and energy and removing waste. LMN architects writes: “a central heat pump plant connected to the sea water will provide heating and cooling to the convention centre. In summer, the sea water will provide a low temperature condensing medium resulting in low kW/ton energy requirements. In winter, the heat pump will cool the sea water and reject the heat to the building for heating. In intermediate weather, direct sea water cooling will cool the building. The heat pumps will be electric driven with the electricity in BC having a very low GHG signature.”

Watch a video tour of the green roof, and view Flickr photos of the building

Read LMN Architect’s case study

Photo credits: LMN

Brooklyn Bridge Park Tour by Michael Van Valkenburgh, FASLA

WNYC Cityscapes has put a camera in the hands of a number of architects and landscape architects and asked them to describe how they see the city. Michael Van Valkenburgh, FASLA, a leading landscape architect, has created a number of videos as part of the series, including a new tour of the Brooklyn Bridge Park, which is in development.  

According to Cityscapes, the Brooklyn Bridge Park includes 76-acres of parkland, stretching over a mile on the Brooklyn waterfront. 17 acres of Brooklyn Bridge Park will open by the end of the year, with another section coming online in summer 2010. 100 million USD of construction contracts have been awarded. 231 million USD out of the park’s 350 million USD construction budget has been allocated.

Watch the video tour of the construction of Brooklyn Bridge Park

Obama Administration Open to Geo-Engineering

Obama Administration Chief Science Advisor, John Holdren, who is a member of the cabinet, said “drastic measures should not be ‘off the table’ in discussions on how best to tackle climate change.” According to The Guardian, Holdren said geo-engineering could not be ruled out.

The Guardian says the Holdren raised with the President the possibility of “massive-scale technological fixes to alter the climate, otherwise known as ‘geo-engineering.” Mass-scale technological fixes could include: placing mirrors in space that reflect sunlight from the Earth; fertilizing oceans with iron filings, which will encourage the growth of algae or plankton that can soak up CO2; and creating artificial clouds, which could bounce the sun’s rays back into space (and, in turn, cut down the amount of sunlight heating the planet).

UK scientists have had faced heavy government opposition to geo-engineering, and some were buoyed by Holdren’s comments. Stephen Salter, an engineer at Edinburgh University told The Guardian: “Everyone working in geo-engineering works with some reluctance: we hope it’ll never be needed, but we fear it might be needed very very urgently. Holden is echoing that exactly. It’s very encouraging – we’ve had extremely negative reactions from the UK governments.”

Other scientists see risks, but think these new technological fixes are a response to fears of political inaction on combating rising CO2 levels. In a special edition of the Royal Society journal Philosophical Transactions, Brian Launder of the University of Manchester and Michael Thompson of the University of Cambridge said: “While such geo-scale interventions may be risky, the time may well come when they are accepted as less risky than doing nothing. There is increasingly the sense that governments are failing to come to grips with the urgency of setting in place measures that will assuredly lead to our planet reaching a safe equilibrium.” Greenpeace Chief Scientist, Douglas Parr, outlined his concerns to The Guardian, saying : “The wider point is not the pros and cons of particular technologies, but that the scientific community is becoming so scared of our collective inability to tackle climate emissions that such outlandish schemes are being considered for serious study. We already have the technology and know-how to make dramatic cuts in global emissions – but it’s not happening, and those closest to the climate science are coming near to pressing the panic button.”

Some technologies may need to be abandoned because they fail to sequester carbon in adequate amounts, or may even cause environmental damage. According to Science Daily, a recent test by researchers to use iron fertilization to spur plankton growth in oceans wasn’t as successful as planned. “Researchers analysed an area of the Southern ocean known to be naturally rich in iron and their report reveals that the amount of carbon sequestered to the deep ocean for a given input of natural iron falls far short of previous geo-engineering estimates. This has serious implications for proposals to influence climate change through iron fertilisation of the sea.” This research coincided with the halt of a controversial Indo-German expedition also in the Southern Ocean. “Just days ago, a ship carrying scientists from India and Germany were prevented from dumping iron into the sea as part of an experiment to artificially fertilise the ocean and stimulate phytoplankton growth. Reports suggest that the German government suspended the operation following claims by green campaigners that it breaches a UN moratorium on ocean fertilisation.”

Read the article 
Read earlier Dirt post on using iron to spur plankton growth

Image credit: University of Portsmouth via Science Daily

Update: The New York Times’ Dot Earth Blog reports that Holdren has responded to news coverage of his earlier support for geo-engineering. “Dr. Holdren said that the Associated Press article implied incorrectly that this strategy for climate management was under serious consideration at the White House.”

Holdren wrote in an email to scientists: “I said that the approaches that have been surfaced so far seem problematic in terms of both efficacy and side effects, but we have to look at the possibilities and understand them because if we get desperate enough it will be considered. I also made clear that this was my personal view, not Administration policy. Asked whether I had mentioned geo-engineering in any White House discussions, though, I said that I had. This is NOT the same thing as saying the White House is giving serious consideration to geo-engineering – which it isn’t — and I am disappointed that the headline and the text of the article suggest otherwise.”

Read the post at Dot Earth

Global Grant Competition on Climate Adaptation

The World Bank’s Development Marketplace has announced its global grant competition is receiving submissions until May 18, 2009. This year’s focus is climate adaptation. According to Development Marketplace, grant proposals from companies, foundations or organizations in developing countries should focus on one of the following themes:

  • Resilience of Indigenous Peoples Communities to Climate Risks
  • Climate Risk Management with Multiple Benefits
  • Climate Adaptation and Disaster Risk Management

A successful project for the first theme is able to “identify and conserve agriculture, land, water and soil management practices that are based on traditional Indigenous knowledge and that help increase the resilience of Indigenous Peoples communities to climate threats.” For ‘Climate Adaptation and Disaster Risk Management,’ the Development Marketplace is looking to “create innovative low-cost approaches for making housing and local infrastructure resistant to climate-related disasters and for spatial planning (land use, housing, coastal zone management) for climate resilience.”

Organizations, including non-governmental organizations (NGOs), other civil society organizations (e.g. community associations, faith-based groups, labor unions, etc.), private foundations, development agencies, government agencies, academia and the private sector are eligible to apply. The proposal must target a group of beneficiaries that would be impacted directly by the project. Projects should be in developing countries. Development Marketplace doesn’t support research studies, but seeks on-the-ground projects that seek to ‘scale-up.’

The Development Marketplace offers grants from USD 50,000 to 200,000.

Go to Development Marketplace for more details as well as the DM 2006 winners in the area of water supply, sanitation and energy
Also, check out the World Bank’s Climate Change blog

Gehry Wins Eisenhower Memorial Commission

Frank Gehry, and his firm, Gehry Partners, have beat out the other finalists for the new Eisenhower Memorial, which will sit near the National Mall. The other finalists included Rogers Marvel Architects, Berkeley-based landscape architect Peter Walker and Partners, and the Chicago firm Krueck & Sexton Architects. (Interestingly, only one landscape architecture firm was among the finalists. However, EDAW is part of the Gehry team’s winning proposal).

According to The L.A. Times, the Eisenhower Memorial will be a 4-acre site across Independence Avenue from the National Air and Space Museum, the most-visited museum on the Mall. “It’s a landscape and urban design project as much as an architectural one. Featuring a number of covered outdoor displays but no permanent museum, it is projected to cost between USD 90 million and 120 million.”

Unfortunately, no details (or photos) of the Gehry plans have been revealed because the selection remains ‘preliminary.’ The L.A. Times also sees a L.A. connection between the commission and Gehry’s selection. “The General Services Administration in Washington, which administered the competition, stresses that it remains preliminary — the architect’s selection has given the project a decided Los Angeles flavor. The chairman of the Eisenhower Memorial Commission is Rocco C. Siciliano, who has held leading trustee positions at the J. Paul Getty Trust and the Los Angeles Philharmonic.”

Read the article
Go to the Eisenhower Memorial web site

In Situ: Architecture and Landscape

On April 8, the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York City will open a new show, “In Situ: Architecture and Lansdcape,” which explores the relationship between the built environment and its surrounding landscape.

MOMA writes: “In recent decades landscape has taken on an expanded definition in architecture. In the first half of the twentieth century, the architectural avant-garde celebrated autonomy from nature, and architects devised utopian schemes for creating urban realms ex novo. More recently, however, the challenges of a threatened environment and rapidly expanding cities have fostered a revised understanding of landscape. Harmony between the spatial, social, and environmental aspects of human life has become a priority in political thought, and this has had profound reverberations in both architecture and landscape design. Landscape—no longer understood merely as nature untouched—now encompasses complex interventions by architects and landscape architects in urban and rural surroundings.”

The exhibit includes early 20th century work from Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies Van Der Rohe through to contemporary work, such as the Southeast Coastal Park in Barcelona by Foreign Office Architects.  The exhibit also includes Roberto Burle Marx’s work in Rio, work by Tadao Ando in Osaka, and a few cemetaries “whose designs demonstrate that our relationship to landscape often transcends our quotidian needs.”

In Situ: Architecture and Landscape
April 8, 2009 – September 14, 2009
The Philip Johnson Architecture and Design Galleries, 3rd floor
Go to MOMA web site  

Image credit: Roberto Burle Marx (MOMA)

Short Stories for the Royal Parks of London

Bldgblog wrote about eight short stories commissioned by the Royal Parks of London. Each story is set in a different London park. Rown Routh, the series’ editor, hopes that the Royal Parks commission will become an annual event.

According to Bldgblog, Routh asked for short stories from writers ” who had a connection to a particular part of London: for example, Nicola Barker, whose most recent novel is the Booker-prize short-listed Darkmans and who lives in Greenwich, has contributed By Force of Will Alone, set in Greenwich Park. The selection process evolved as word spread—and the final list now looks like this: William Boyd (The Dreams of Bethany Mellmoth, Green Park), Will Self (A Report to the Minister, Bushy Park), Ali Smith (The Definite Article, Regent’s Park), Adam Thorpe (Direct Hit, Hyde Park), Shena Mackay (The Return of the Deer, Richmond Park), Hana al-Shaykh (A Beauty Parlour for Swans, Kensington Gardens), and Clare Wigfall (Along Birdcage Walk, St James’s Park).”

The Park Stories series will be available from May in either individual booklets (priced at £2 each) or a box set (priced at £16). The books are available at select bookstores, and through The Royal Parks website. The authors will read in their respective parks this summer.

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